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Advance Medical Directives

Under the Health Care Decisions Act, a Maryland law, you have the right to make health care decisions for yourself in advance, through instructions called “Advance Directives.”

Instrucciónes Médicas Anticipadas en español esta aqui.

An Advance Directive can be used to name a health care agent – that is, someone to make health care decisions for you – or to indicate your treatment preferences, especially about procedures that might be used to sustain your life. Two forms are available. The shorter one is a Living Will. The longer one, Advance Directive, has two parts, Part A and Part B. Each are described below.

Living Will

A Living Will allows you to make decisions about life-sustaining procedures in the event (a) your death from a terminal condition is imminent despite the application of life-sustaining procedures, or (b) you are in a condition of permanent unconsciousness called a persistent vegetative state. The Living Will form does not allow for an appointment of a health care agent.

Advance Directive

You also have the right to give broader health care instructions and to appoint a health care agent to make decisions for you should you be unable.

Part A of the Advance Directive allows you to name your health care agent. An agent must be at least 18 years old, but need not be related to you. Your agent will have the power to make important treatment decisions, even if other people close to you might urge a different decision, so it is important to choose your health care agent carefully. Make sure that the person you name understands what you want and don’t want.

If you use Part B of the Advance Directive, you can make decisions about life-sustaining procedures in the event of a terminal condition, persistent vegetative state, or end-stage condition. (An end-stage condition is an advanced, progressive, and incurable condition resulting in complete physical dependency, such as advanced Alzheimer’s disease.)

You can also use Part B of the Advance Directive to make other health care decisions.

Both of these forms were designed to be clear enough so that you do not need a lawyer’s help in completing them, but if there is anything that you do not understand, please consult with a lawyer of your choice. You can also ask your doctor to explain the medical issues.

You should give your doctor a copy of your Advance Directive.

Your Right to Decide

Mentally competent adults generally have the right to decide for themselves whether they want medical treatment. The right to decide – the right to say yes or no to treatment – also applies to treatments that extend life, like a life-support machine or a feeding tube.

Tragically, accident or illness can take away a person’s ability to make health care decisions. But decisions still have to be made, and if you cannot do so for yourself, someone else will. You should consider whether you want to take steps now to reflect your own wishes. This is a very personal decision, one that only you can make.

Without an Advance Directive, you may have no control over important medical care decisions such as whether to receive life-support treatment or to aggressively treat your pain. You may assume your wishes are similar to those of other people and that your loved ones and doctors will know what you would want should you become gravely ill. In reality, though, everyone has different wishes and yours may not be followed unless you make them clear. Completing an Advance Directive gives you control over your care, and peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

For More Information

For more information regarding Advance Directives or to obtain a printed copy of the document, please contact Atlantic General Hospital’s Pastoral Care Services at (410) 641-9725.

Or, visit the American Hospital Association for more information.


Maryland Advance Directive Forms (forms for visually impaired)
Delaware Advance Directive Forms